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Justices: Ex-wife must agree to lower sales price

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held that a trial court had no authority to modify a property agreement made by ex-spouses and that the ex-wife is entitled by law to refuse to waive a provision that neither party had to accept a sale that was below specified minimums.

When Sean and Dee Anna Ryan divorced in 2008, they agreed to sell a property they had in Granger and a lake house in Michigan. Until the properties sold, Sean Ryan would pay 75 percent of the mortgages; Dee Anna Ryan would pay the remainder. In the agreement, the two could “bind” each other to accept a purchase price as long as the “resulting net proceeds” equaled at least $1.1 million on the Granger house and at least $300,000 on the lake house.

For two years, the properties hadn’t sold, so Sean Ryan sought a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(8) so that the court could order that the properties will be sold at the prevailing fair market value and he could accept a price lower than stated in the agreement without his ex-wife’s consent.

The trial court denied the request, but the Court of Appeals ordered the court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion.

The justices agreed with the trial court that it didn’t have authority to modify the property-distribution agreement without Dee Anna Ryan’s consent. The agreement was incorporated and merged into the divorce decree and did not provide for, nor did the parties consent to, modification, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote.

A court can have authority to resolve a dispute over the interpretation of a settlement agreement or property-division order, he noted, and the court’s task would be one of contract interpretation.

In the instant case, the justices found that the Ryans’ agreement as to the disposition of their properties is unambiguous. As a matter of contract law, Dee Anna is bound to agree to the sales prices for the properties that would produce net proceeds less than those stated in the agreement.

“We conclude by saying that, in writing this opinion, we have been struck by the recurrence of several fact patterns that have been avoidably problematic – the use of specific dollar amounts rather than percentages, the failure of a QDRO’s terms to conform to ERISA requirements, the failure to provide a contingency if the marital residence cannot be sold – and trust that practitioners and judges alike will contemplate them in their work as well,” Sullivan wrote.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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